Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/76

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ABORTION
ABORTION
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24 July, 1895, in answer to the question whether when the mother is in immediate danger of death and there is no other means of saving her life, a physician can with a safe conscience cause abortion not by destroying the child in the womb (which was explicitly condemned in the former decree), but by giving it a chance to be born alive, though not being yet viable, it would soon expire. The answer was that he cannot. After these and other similar decisions had been given, some moralists thought they saw reasons to doubt whether an exception might not be allowed in the case of ectopic gestations. Therefore the question was submitted: "Is it ever allowed to extract from the body of the mother ectopic embryos still immature, before the sixth month after conception is completed?" The answer given, 20 March, 1902, was: "No; according to the decree of 4 May, 1898; according to which, as far as possible, earnest and opportune provision is to be made to safeguard the life of the child and of the mother. As to the time, let the questioner remember that no acceleration of birth is licit unless it be done at a time, and in ways in which, according to the usual course of things, the life of the mother and the child be provided for". Ethics, then, and the Church agree in teaching that no action is lawful which directly destroys fœtal life. It is also clear that extracting the living fœtus before it is viable, is destroying its life as directly as it would be killing a grown man directly to plunge him into a medium in which he cannot live, and hold him there till he expires. But, if medical treatment or surgical operation, necessary to save a mother's life, is applied to her organism (though the child's death would, or at least might, follow as a regretted but unavoidable consequence), it should not be maintained that the fœtal life is thereby directly attacked. Moralists agree that we are not always prohibited from doing what is lawful in itself, though evil consequences may follow which we do not desire. The good effects of our acts are then directly intended, and the regretted evil consequences are reluctantly permitted to follow because we cannot avoid them. The evil thus permitted is said to be indirectly intended. It is not imputed to us provided four conditions are verified, namely: (a) That we do not wish the evil effects, but make all reasonable efforts to avoid them; (b) That the immediate effect be good in itself; (c) That the evil is not made a means to obtain the good effect; for this would be to do evil that good might come of it—a procedure never allowed; (d) That the good effect be as important at least as the evil effect. All four conditions may be verified in treating or operating on a woman with child. The death of the child is not intended, and every reasonable precaution is taken to save its life; the immediate effect intended, the mother's life, is good—no harm is done to the child in order to save the mother—the saving of the mother's life is in itself as good as the saving of the child's life. Of course provision must be made for the child's spiritual as well as for its physical life, and if by the treatment or operation in question the child were to be deprived of Baptism, which it could receive if the operation were not performed, then the evil would be greater than the good consequences of the operation. In this case the operation could not lawfully be performed. Whenever it is possible to baptize an embryonic child before it expires, Christian charity requires that it be done, either before or after delivery; and it may be done by any one, even though he be not a Christian.

History contains no mention of criminal abortions antecedent to the period of decadent morality in classic Greece. The crime seems not to have prevailed in the time of Moses, either among the Jews or among the surrounding nations; else that great legislator would certainly have spoken in condemnation of it. No mention of it occurs in the long enumeration of sins laid to the charge of the Canaanites. The first reference to it is found in the books attributed to Hippocrates, who required physicians to bind themselves by oath not to give to women drinks fatal to the child in the womb. At that period voluptuousness had corrupted the morals of the Greeks, and Aspasia was teaching ways of procuring abortion. In later times the Romans became still more depraved, and bolder in such practices; for Ovid wrote concerning the upper classes of his countrymen:

Nunc uterum vitiat quæ vult formosa videri,
Raraque, in hoc ævo, est quæ velit esse parens.

Three centuries later we meet with the first record of laws enacted by the State to check this crime. Exile was decreed against mothers guilty of it; while those who administered the potion to procure it were if nobles, sent to certain islands, if plebeians, condemned to work in the metal mines. Still the Romans in their legislation appear to have aimed at punishing the wrong done by abortion to the father or the mother, rather than the wrong done to the unborn child (Döllinger, "Heathenism and Judaism"). The early Christians are the first on record as having pronounced abortion to be the murder of human beings, for their public apologists, Athenagoras, Tertullian, and Minutius Felix (Eschbach, "Disp. Phys.", Disp. iii), to refute the slander that a child was slain, and its flesh eaten, by the guests at the Agapæ, appealed to their laws as forbidding all manner of murder, even that of children in the womb. The Fathers of the Church unanimously maintained the same doctrine. In the fourth century the Council of Eliberis decreed that Holy Communion should be refused all the rest of her life, even on her deathbed, to an adulteress who had procured the abortion of her child. The Sixth Œcumenical Council determined for the whole Church that anyone who procured abortion should bear all the punishments inflicted on murderers. In all these teachings and enactments no distinction is made between the earlier and the later stages of gestation. For, though the opinion of Aristotle, or similar speculations, regarding the time when the rational soul is infused into the embryo, were practically accepted for many centuries still it was always held by the Church that he who destroyed what was to be a man was guilty of destroying a human life. The great prevalence of criminal abortion ceased wherever Christianity became established. It was a crime of comparatively rare occurrence in the Middle Ages. Like its companion crime, divorce, it did not again become a danger to society till of late years. Except at times and in places influenced by Catholic principles, what medical writers call "obstetric" abortion, as distinct from "criminal" (though both are indefensible on moral grounds), has always been a common practice. It was usually performed by means of craniotomy, or the crushing of the child's head to save the mother's life. Hippocrates, Celsus, Avicenna, and the Arabian school generally invented a number of vulnerating instruments to enter and crush the child's cranium. In more recent times, with the advance of the obsteric science, more conservative measures have gradually prevailed. By use of the forceps, by skill acquired in version, by procuring premature labour, and especially by asepticism in the Cæsarean section and other equivalent operations, medical science has found much improved means of saving both the child and its mother. Of late years such progress has been made in this matter, that craniotomy on the living child has passed out of reputable practice. But abortion proper, before the fœtus is viable, is still often employed, especially in ectopic gestation; and there are many men and women who may be called professional abortionists.

In former times civil laws against all kinds of abor-